ADVANCE REVIEW: Imperium #11

Writer: Joshua Dysart

Artist: Cafu

Valiant Entertainment

In the third chapter of The Vine Imperative, Dysart takes his gripping super-powered political thriller and infuses just the right amount of horror.

Since the Valiant relaunch a few years ago, readers have known about The Vine, a collective of plant-like aliens that have crossbred sleeper agents into humanity since the time of the Roman Empire. Readers have also followed Toyo Harada on a slow climb to power, using his unlimited psychic abilities to manipulate the world into what he hopes to be a peaceful state. Most recently, Harada has become the leader of a tiny sovereign land, from which he directs a team of superpowered advisors toward morally gray missions. One of those advisors, LV-99, is a Vine assassin on a very tight leash, and in this issue, that leash snaps.

The horror of this attack is terrific. As the monster feeds on two of the series’s most relatable figures, readers are shaken out of the peace Harada (and Dysart) have lulled us into. Harada has this under control, we think, because he has won so many battles thus far and has never shaken his confidence in the safety of keeping an alien assassin in the house. He massacred some bad guys in the team’s last story arc, but it wasn’t obvious how this could play out in a betrayal. The Vine creature’s murderous language has been used for comedy, like Rocket Raccoon but green, and when played straight, it’s so much more deeply unsettling.

The political themes of Harada’s story, from Harbinger to Unity to Omegas to the current Imperium title, have been challenging in the ways that have made Dr. Doom and Magneto such compelling villains. His methods are violent and deplorable, but his goals are pretty much world peace, and readers have to continually challenge themselves about what they would be willing to do in service of the greater good. This is brought into real-world focus this issue when Harada’s nation begins accepting Syrian refugees. One advisor is excited, sure that this is a chance to do significant global good, while another shrugs and refuses to provide medical care because she sees the needy as a drain on national resources. It’s a frightening conversation because you have probably seen variations of it on your Facebook newsfeed, and the comic refuses to answer a question like this with a simple “We should always help the less fortunate” or “Our needs always come before those of strangers.”

Imperium has had some of the best appearances of Valiant’s most complicated villain, and this arc has moved us to fear for his safety. I have no idea where this title is going, but readers would do well to climb aboard before it’s too late.

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Imperium 11 comes out Wednesday, December 16, from Valiant Entertainment.